Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen Pioneer go through some tumultuous changes. At the beginning, Wizards of the Coast gave us the mission statement for Pioneer, which included a banning philosophy that essentially boils down to “We’ll ban it if it gets out of hand.” This was mostly due to the initial Banned and Restricted list just being fetchlands to hurt mana development and to limit the total amount of shuffling that needs to be done each game. But the effects of having the bannings come week to week has been exciting and somewhat refreshing. It’s like we have a new toy to play with every time the hammer comes down! The most recent change?
I didn’t hit the mark perfectly, but I’ve definitely got my finger on the Pioneer pulse. I actually called these (plus Nexus of Fate) as the cards I would ban this time around. Nexus of Fate hasn’t put up extraordinary numbers or anything; it’s just miserable to play against. I’m fine with them letting the format breathe a bit, but mostly the play patterns involving Nexus of Fate are super-annoying. You could argue that Nexus of Fate shouldn’t be banned because it’s really the strength of Wilderness Reclamation that keeps it afloat, but I actually think cards like Wilderness Reclamation lead to interesting decks and games. Nexus of Fate might fail without access to Wilderness Reclamation, but let’s be honest here: how long can Nexus of Fate last in a non-rotating format if it’s only available as a Buy-a-Box promo? And do we really want the “proxy this card every tournament” feature to stick around?
Moving on, I think it’s time we start to examine where we want the format to go from here. But instead of focusing on entirely new decks that could break through now that these cards have been banned, what about trying to make decks work that had something in them banned? Today’s article will feature four decks: one deck centered around Nexus of Fate and three that revolve around trying to mitigate the loss of Smuggler’s Copter, Once Upon a Time, and Field of the Dead. Let’s begin.
Get It While It’s Hot
Simic Nexus is a deck that I’m pretty sure will get banned at some point, so let’s take a little time to try to break it. It’s not the most fun deck to play with or against, but I think a lot of that is people’s inexperience with it. Personally, when I play it on Magic Online, I tend to combo out pretty fast, but the experience for the opponent of having to sit there while I get to play Magic is still miserable. Regardless, it’s legal, and you need to know how to play both with and against it if you want to be successful in Pioneer.
If you want to beat Nexus of Fate, you need to attack. You need to put them under pressure and hit them with some disruption. Whether that means discard, counterspells, or just some permanent that gives them trouble is up to you, but the easiest way to beat Simic Nexus is to put them under too much pressure before they get set up. Luckily, there are a lot of cards in Pioneer that just have some built-in protection.
These three cards are all over the place in Pioneer, and all three of them completely dunk on Fog. So what if we didn’t play Fog? I feel like the fact that these aggressive decks are playing all of these cards just makes it unreliable. And when I play with Simic Nexus myself, I sideboard it out more than any other card. Its true purpose is protecting Tamiyo, Collector of Tales for one turn while you set up, but I’ve found it unnecessary.
Without further ado, let’s take a look at the latest build of Nexus of Fate while it’s still legal!
No Fog? No problem. Let’s bounce stuff to keep them off balance. Let’s play an extra land. Let’s shore up the other matchups and not worry so much about aggro because chances are we’re going to get busted up by Stomp or Wild Slash. With Smuggler’s Copter out of the picture, I foresee a lot more control and midrange decks popping up, so let’s try to beat those instead.
My theory that Fog is bad and/or unnecessary is one that is relatively untested, but in all the games I’ve played Simic Nexus, I think I’ve cast Fog (or a variant) less than five total times. That’s pretty ludicrous considering there have been four copies in my deck for as long as I can remember. I’m just hoping it doesn’t come back to bite me in the ass.
Simic Nexus is a fragile beast, and one that could break out of its cage at any point. Better players than I will likely build it and win with it over the next few weeks while I’m out here trying to put back the pieces of my Mono-Green Devotion deck that’s had four cards banned. It’s clear to me that Nexus of Fate is the best thing you can be doing with Wilderness Reclamation right now. But does it really need to stick to Simic? What about Temur or Sultai with actual removal spells? What about Bant for Teferi, Time Raveler and Sphinx’s Revelation? The door is wide open, and I think there is merit to every splash color.
Devoted to Oko?
It seems like something from Green Devotion gets hit in every banning. In the first wave, losing Oath of Nissa and Leyline of Abundance was pretty hurtful. After that, counterspells and Thoughtseize got a lot more popular, so everyone started playing three or four copies of Veil of Summer. And when that got the axe? I just decided to keep going. But I think banning Once Upon a Time might actually just do me in.
Every game with Mono-Green Devotion revolving around a Llanowar Elves or Elvish Mystic on the first turn was significantly different than a game without it. Once Upon a Time helped ensure you start with that first turn Elf, or were able to find the land necessary to cast it. On occasion, it would find the Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or the second copy of Burning-Tree Emissary for some busted starts. Without Once Upon a Time, we have to figure out a way to keep our deck consistent, even if we can’t go wild on people as much anymore.
- 3 Llanowar Elves
- 3 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Voracious Hydra
- 4 Gilded Goose
- 4 Wicked Wolf
Here we have Simic Devotion, almost a reversion to an older version of Green Devotion featuring Oko, Thief of Crowns and Hydroid Krasis. Since there’s a lot more aggression and potentially more control, Hydroid Krasis should shine through. Walking Ballista is certainly good, but you can only draw it so many times against control or midrange in the early turns after your Elf dies before you realize you should just play something else. Now that Once Upon a Time is gone, the abundance of Llanowar Elves on the first turn should drop significantly, which means the value of Walking Ballista will drop with it.
The lack of Burning-Tree Emissary should worry you, because we’ve officially moved away from Broken Deck Territory. There will still be some sweet games where you resolve Vivien, Arkbow Ranger and have enough devotion to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, but the days of having double Burning-Tree Emissary to fuel Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx is gone. It’s just not reliable enough without Once Upon a Time.
Instead, we’re getting really interactive. Both Wicked Wolf and Oko, Thief of Crowns are great at helping you grind through midrange and control strategies, giving you ways to fight opposing creatures or poof them into an Elk. They’re also pretty great against an opposing Supreme Verdict, which is usually one of the cards that gives you the most trouble.
The blue splash for Hydroid Krasis and Oko is not done lightly, but both are worth it at the moment. Turning into a midrange deck in a pinch is pretty easy when you get to play with the best planeswalker of all time. Plus, it helps you fend off flying creatures, large monsters, or just about any weird artifact giving you trouble.
Will the blue splash be enough to put Green Devotion back into the spotlight? Is Nykthos finally dead in the water?
Hour’s Time Isn’t Up Yet
While people realize that banning Field of the Dead effectively kills a few different decks, there are some cards that paired with Field of the Dead that can still be useful. Hour of Promise was the go-to ramp spell because it could find a Field of the Dead or two, all while making sure you had enough differently named lands. But Hour of Promise was a sweet card before Field of the Dead, and I can only assume it’ll still be around after.
Here’s my take on Mono-Green Ramp featuring Hour of Promise.
- 3 Oblivion Sower
- 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger
- 4 World Breaker
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 4 Elvish Rejuvenator
- 4 Arboreal Grazer
This deck lost both FIeld of the Dead and Once Upon a Time, but I think it can survive both of those losses. We’re using Hour of Promise as intended: to find specialty lands that have a minor impact on the game, but finding two of them can ultimately have a major impact. You can still make Zombies, but you need to have a Desert on the battlefield and find two more. But I think the big draw for playing this strategy is that you get to play four copies of Ugin, the Spirit Dragon.
This big planeswalker is Pioneer’s version of Karn Liberated. It doesn’t destroy lands, but it certainly cleans up nicely. It’s very difficult for traditional decks to beat Ugin, the Spirit Dragon without killing it with a direct removal spell. And with the format slowing down, it’s possible that Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is just one of the best things you can be doing in Pioneer.
I’m excited to try this one out, if only because the strength of Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx has been slowly worn down. Now, instead of cheating on mana, we have to ramp the old-fashioned way. Luckily, Nissa’s Pilgrimage is amazing, even giving you extra lands to dump onto the battlefield with the likes of Arboreal Grazer and giving you an extra land drop to boot. It is rare that you’ll be able to turn on the spell mastery in any meaningful way, but we don’t exactly have Cultivate at our disposal.
This deck lost the most in the bannings, but it didn’t really put either Field of the Dead or Once Upon a Time to great use. They were just tools that got lost in the cogwork, doing their thing in conjuction with the rest of the deck but not particularly well. Moving forward, it might be better to splash blue for Growth Spiral, but having enough basic Forests to support Nissa’s Pilgrimage is integral.
Back in Black?
Last on the list is the deck that arguably lost the least, but the card it lost was the most devastating to the archetype. Can Mono-Black Aggro survive without Smuggler’s Copter?
- 4 Bloodsoaked Champion
- 4 Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4 Glint-Sleeve Siphoner
- 3 Gutterbones
- 4 Knight of the Ebon Legion
- 3 Rankle, Master of Pranks
- 4 Murderous Rider
Obviously, losing Smuggler’s Copter is a huge deal, but how good is the deck without it? My gut says that it’s still pretty darn good, in both my experience playing with and against it. The trick for making it run smoothly was being able to use all your mana every single turn while presenting your opponent with a diverse creature suite that threatens them for both killing your stuff and not killing your stuff. Unfortunately, we don’t have much protection from stuff like Anger of the Gods anymore, but that type of card is supposed to be great against you!
The trick to building Mono-Black Aggro now will be filling that two-drop in the curve. Losing Smuggler’s Copter is tough, but I think Glint-Sleeve Siphoner will be the perfect fit. Even though you don’t have many other ways to generate energy, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner is pretty good at punishing your opponents who let it survive for too long. The second one is often better than the first, as the first will almost always die to Wild Slash or the like. The second one generates a second energy, which in turn ends up fueling itself.
Priest of Forgotten Gods is also something I want to dabble with, as you have so many creatures with “second lives.” Sacrificing something like Gutterbones and then using the mana to bring it back just feels busted. A two-drop creature that dies to all one-mana removal isn’t ideal, but it’s also nothing new. Aggro mages have been running into that problem for decades. If they let Priest of Forgotten Gods get out of hand, it should get really bad for your opponent.
My other pick for a two-drop that could be great is Asylum Visitor, if only because it’s pretty easy to get either yourself or your opponent empty-handed with Rankle, Master of Pranks. Three power attacking is also pretty sick, giving you some serious damage output against the slower opponents in the format. I often found myself overloaded with creatures that have graveyard abilities, so it’s actually fine to have a few that just die so you have food for Scrapheap Scrounger.
I think a lot of people will just end up replacing Smuggler’s Copter with Aethersphere Harvester, but I think you need more reasons for energy or more two-drops to fill the spot where Smuggler’s Copter left. Having both Aethersphere Harvester and Glint-Sleeve Siphoner fill in the gaps is great.
Let’s Get to Work
Pioneer is really starting to settle down. And while a few cards or decks are still potentially up next for banning, I don’t have a clear picture yet on what exactly needs to go. I have a few PTQs this weekend on Magic Online to learn some things, but my gut says that Mono-Black Aggro is still very good. In fact, all four of these decks could potentially win the tournament. They’re powerful strategies that might have lost a tool or two, but I’ve already proven that Mono-Green Devotion can survive multiple bans. Why can’t that be true for other archetypes?
The next few weeks should be interesting, to say the least. I’m looking forward to playing a lot more hours of Pioneer in order to find out what the best deck is. Feel free to join me as I stream all of that sweet, sweet Pioneer action!